At the Carleton, Paladin is reading in the lobby and approaching a young woman when he notices Hey Boy reading a wire for him. Hey Boy giggles and says that Paladin's mail is the most interesting in the hotel. There's a money order enclosed for $82.17, and an invitation for Paladin to come to Florence. Paladin agrees and goes upstairs to pack.
Later, Paladin rides into Florence and takes cover as someone fires a rifle. He sees two men shooting at each other. A man, Ernie Teller, comes over and offers Paladin a shave at his barber shop. Paladin agrees and they go into the shop, and Ernie explains that the two men, Jeff Sunderland and Max Clay, have been shooting at each other for months and they're fighting over Belle Hooper. Paladin notices that Ernie has his card, and Ernie explains that an actress left it there on her way through Florence. The gunfighter asks Ernie about the money order, and Ernie admits that he sent the wire and sent everything he had. Paladin figures that Belle wants to marry Ernie, and figures that she wants a gunfight. Ernie admits that he's seen a lot of bullet holes and doesn't want to shoot anyone, but figures someone has to stop Jeff and Max.
Belle comes in and says that Jeff and Max could come in and grab her, and Ernie has to stop the fight. She wants Ernie doing something, and asks what Paladin is doing there. Paladin says that he and Ernie will take on Jeff and Max, and Ernie has no choice but to agree.
The two men go out and Jeff tells them to get out of his line of fire. Jeff is shaving, and says that his wedding night is that night. He asks Ernie to help him, and Ernie obliges. Paladin says that there's no point to the fight, and tells Jeff that Ernie wants to marry Belle. Jeff tells Ernie that it's bad taste on Belle's part, and Paladin suggests that they duel for her Montana: the two men against each other, each with a rifle loaded with two bullets. When Jeff objects, Paladin points out that Ernie has a razor to his throat. He offers a $1,000 side bet on their shootout and Jeff agrees.
Next, Paladin and Ernie go over to Max. He says that Ernie can take him on after he deals with Jeff, and doesn't care what Belle wants. When Max refuses to duel, Paladin pins him down and Max agrees. They all meet in the street and agree on the duel, and Paladin says that Belle will give the signal. Belle isn't happy to participate, but the men agree and the two locals go to get a drink and make their plans. Paladin tells Belle that she'll feel more like a woman having four men shoot it out over her in the strength.
Paladin and Ernie go back to the barber shop and Ernie shows Paladin his rifle. The barber says that he's not going to shoot for fear of hitting a bystander. Ernie refuses to kill, saying that someone has to be first to settle things peacefully. Paladin agrees but says that's for the future, and goes to get a rifle of his own. He comes across a plainsman, Hank, in the street and notices his rifle. Hank agrees to let Paladin use it in return for drinks, as long as Paladin buys him the drink before the fight. They go into the saloon and share a toast with Max and Jeff.
Paladin asks if they want to go through with the duel, suggesting that they might have cooled off. Belle listens from the door as Max and Jeff chuckle at the thought of Ernie firing a rifle. Paladin cocks the rifle bullets into Hank's hat and assures them that they'll get what they paid for. Belle tells Paladin that she might have encouraged Jeff and Max, but figures that Ernie has to learn how to protect himself and his potential family. She asks Paladin to protect Ernie, and explains that she had a father who didn't believe in violence. They ran from town to town, the bullies picking on him at every town. Belle won't let the same thing happen to her kids. Paladin gives her a revolver to signal with and says that it might turn out all right.
Paladin and Ernie meet Jeff and Max in the street. They give hank their revolvers and they all show there are two bullets in their rifles. Ernie pretends to load his rifle but doesn't, and Jeff and Paladin give their money to Belle to hold. Belle asks them to call it off but Paladin ignores her.
As they take cover, Ernie tells Paladin that he didn't load his rifle. Paladin already knows, and tells Ernie to take cover behind a nearby water trough. Belle fires the shot and Ernie takes cover. Jeff fires at him while Paladin tosses his rifle up to a balcony and then climbs up. He shoots and breaks the stock on Jeff's rifle with the first shot. Max gets the drop on Ernie, and Paladin wings him with his second shot. He tells Max to drop the rifle, and when the man does so points out that he already fired his two shots and Max didn't count.
Jeff concedes that Paladin won and offers to take Max to the doc. The townspeople gather around and Belle realizes that Ernie didn't load the rifle. When she complains that Ernie didn't even try, the townspeople laugh and a disgusted Paladin says that none of them would have been brave enough to come out without a loaded rifle. Ernie says that it's the way he is and Belle can accept him as he is, and Paladin tells her to be worthy of her husband instead of worrying that he's worthy for him. When Ernie admits that he paid Paladin to come there, Paladin agrees to give the $82.17 back out of his $2,000 winnings. As they walk off, Paladin complains that Ernie needs to learn how to stand up for himself until Ernie shushes her.
Written by Gadfly on Mar 25, 2018